Television is not a provision

Something’s missing. It’s Saturday and I’m alone in my living room with my steamy ramen noodles. The cats are quietly hawking over me. There is the occasional slosh of passing cars, the click as the gas stove turns on to warm the hearth, and the faint sound of the sump-pump clearing our 19th-century basement of water. It is a lazy late afternoon characteristic of my weekends here back at home.

My parents went to visit relatives, and I am here with the mission of doing homework. However, I find my once-familiar environment disturbed somehow. I have been thinking about it every moment since I came back. We didn’t lose a family member or a pet, but rather a commodity.

The dark, reflective face of the television, sitting dead upon its stand, looms in the corner. The room is so quiet I find it unsettling and peaceful all at once. The television cable has been unplugged from the wall and the box removed. There are not even rabbit ears sticking up from behind its massive, bulky plastic shell.

In an effort to become more economically efficient we decided that our talking box was not worth over fifty dollars a month. I am used to having no television in my room on campus and being bogged down with work. According to my paranoid standards, TV watching would mean academic and social failure. On weekends I went home and breaks, though, there I was, enjoying shows like Battlestar Galactica and Mission Impossible. I even started watching Deal or No Deal.

I do not intend to criticize the good television shows out there right now. What I had a difficult time realizing was that even when I wasn’t cheering on my favorite characters on an episode of Battlestar Galactica, for example, someone else might be watching their show, and so on. The background noise was always there, and passively, through sight or sound, I have seen hundreds of episodes of Judge Judy, Judge Mathis, The People’s Court, and others. I have left the news on for three hours while only watching half an hour of it. I have heard thousands of commercials and remembered the advertising but not the source. It is a strange situation knowing what’s on TV, even though consciously you don’t think that you “watch” TV.

It feels like I have lost a family member, but one that was not necessarily well liked and valuable. While I lived for years without cable at all, the most recent portion of my life has been with the TV there by my side for every moment of it. The power it has to transmit images and alter the way one thinks is almost unrivaled. Creativity and imagination are stifled.

Last night, as tonight, I will sit here comfortable and warm in our room designed for “living” and not watching TV. The radio might be on low as I listen for news from the G20 summit in London taking place now; after, only the silence of an old house and thoughtful discussions which have been impeded by countless nights of TV-dinners and overwhelming volume using flashing lights and colors as our guide for family time. The house feels alive now, the sound of settling and its squeaky pine floors no longer muted by the box that teaches, talks, and intrudes.

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2 thoughts on “Television is not a provision

  1. I admire your ideals, Hrafn, and that you write about them so publicly, so that they can inspire other people to remember to live their own ideals. I’ve noticed that a good deal of what you post online here and on facebook is praised because of the ideas behind it, as it should be. However, what is perhaps being left behind is any discussion of the language you employ. Out of a desire to be helpful, I will pass along piece of cautionary advise I have gotten from Scottish author Margot Livesey: except in cases of especial emphasis or purposeful overstatement, the use of extremes, superlatives, or words like “all” or “every” can often serve to undercut your meaning rather than enhance it. If you tell me that the television has been there by your side for “every moment,” I am more likely to say, “That’s not true,” than, “Wow! that’s a lot!” Extremes make you harder to believe, and so harder to take seriously. I’ve noticed that this tendency is generally the largest (only?) distraction in your writing. If you need more convincing, what happens when the television actually IS by your side every moment? If you’ve called wolf already a couple of times, I won’t believe you that time either. Of course language choices are all made for very exact reasons; perhaps I have missed the purpose behind any apparent exaggeration.
    Writers should push each other to achieve even better writing; letting things slide is rarely helpful.

  2. Nothing was overstated. For the sake of clarity, however, I do not mean to say that the TV was attached to the hip to me, but rather that in some way, shape, or form, its agency was acting upon my life.

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